At the center of downtown Newark, a new store glows with butter-hued pendant lighting. Its main room is narrow and the wares are arranged with simplicity on ten-foot-high shelves.

The owners of Cool Vines, who opened the upscale liquor store chain’s newest stores recently in the Hahne & Co. building on Halsey Street, say they are hoping to give Newarkers who patronize the establishment a grand experience like no other available in the city.

Cool Vines Store Leader John Ward said the store’s target customers are those who live, work, and visit the downtown area, but he wants the store to have a positive effect on the city.  

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“Cool Vines is a small business and we desire to be active in the community of Newark by partnering with local organizations and visiting surrounding residential buildings,” Ward said.

Mark Censits, the founder and president of Cool Vines, said he decided to open a business in Newark because of the city’s  growing economy and population. The company already has two locations in Jersey City, opening its first store there in 2014.

Those who work in the area say they are excited about the store’s opening. Some are watching to see whether it benefits the city at large or fulfills the fears of those who see gentrification as benefiting only new residents and workers.

Daniel White, a long-time Newark resident who works near the new store, sees a good side to new businesses opening in Newark.  

“I’ve been hanging out in Newark all my life and these places were abandoned for years,” White said, gesturing toward the buildings on Halsey. “More than anything, it’s positive that the city is getting an increase in tax base and driving commerce.”

Rutgers University Safety Officer Ryan Talmadge, who works at Express Newark in the Hahne’s building, is happy to see new development but expressed a wariness about where it might take the city. 

“I’m all for redevelopment and equitable development, but we have to be able to curb the rapid displacement that normally comes with gentrification seen in other cities,” Talmadge said. “When I heard that a new liquor store was going to open, I figured it wasn’t going to be for us (longtime residents of Newark). It was going to be for the folks who go to Starbucks.”

He acknowledged, however, that many stores downtown provide a vital function in serving a large pool of customers, that includes college students, longtime residents, workers in the area, and new residents.

At the store’s festive opening last Thursday, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka was upbeat.

“Cool Vines opening is a sign of progress for everyone in Newark,” Baraka said. “Residents of Newark will no longer have to commute to West Orange or Montclair for quality liquor.”

While the city already has liquor stores, Baraka sees Cool Vines as a positive because it adds to the growing complement of food distributors who have located recently in Newark such as Whole Foods and ShopRite. For years, Newark residents suffered from a shortage of choices of stores offering affordable, healthy food, he noted. 

Spare and simple, the narrow store  brims with bottles of  wine, beer, and spirits produced in places from as far away as France and Japan and as close as Newark and South Orange. Unlike the Jersey City location, the store does not sell gourmet food items because of its proximity to Whole Foods.

Censits said Cool Vines rejects name brand standard alcoholic products such as Budweiser and Bacardi. Instead, Cool Vines retails alcohol with organically produced products commonly not found in other stores. 

For example, the store sells a drink from Panama called Zafra 21 Year Rum made with cherry, oak, vanilla, and caramel flavors. Also available is a vodka brewed with cucumber called Hansons Organic Cucumber Vodka, and a drink brewed with candied orange peel and honeysuckle called Hochstadter’s Slow and Low. 

Cool Vines sells alcohol varying from bottles as cheap as $10 to $95 bottles of Jacquesson Champagne. 

“When I first entered the store, I thought everything was going to be overpriced, but I was mistaken,” said  Kofi Addo, a Rutgers-Newark student after shopping at Cool Vines. “Everything was at a reasonable price for the quality of liquor.”

Juan O'Neill, a lifelong resident of Newark who works downtown, is thrilled that new businesses are opening in Newark. He hopes that more businesses join Cool Vines.

Rather than simply catering solely to the residents and commuters downtown, O’Neil believes that Whole Foods and Cool Vines have the potential to cater to people who have been ignored for decades.

“Newark’s poverty rate is 30 percent. So where is the other 70 percent,” O’Neil said. “I think the problem is that too many in Newark have allowed the rhetoric that others put on Newark to become the self-perception of what and who the people of Newark are.”

Cool Vines is open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.

TAPinto Newark summer intern Jules-Roland Gouton is 2019 graduate of St. Benedict's Prep, where he served as editor-in-chief of The Benedict News. He is headed to Rutgers University's New Brunswick campus in the fall.